Humans have been making music for as long as there have been humans. Cave images found in Turkey and dating from 6000 B.C.E., depict people playing drums and dancing. Obviously the history of music is rich and far-reaching, providing a wealth of research paper topics for your next musically inclined course. Below are some areas to consider.
The need for music writing
In today’s technology-driven world, writing about music may not seem necessary. But even though writing about music can never take the place of hearing an actual musical performance, there is a valid need to communicate about the subject—whether it’s to broaden your understanding of what you’ve heard or to provide a deeper connection to the musical work.
Sienna M. Wood and Juliana Madrone blog about music history, theory and other topics at ThemeandVariations.org. On the topic of “Writing about music” they say “Having to put down in words elements of form and harmony may help you hear them better when you listen. Having to describe a piece aside from the auditory experience may make you listen more attentively to begin with.”
Music history topics
Questia offers many ideas to get you started with research paper topics on the history of music. You can simply browse through the topics provided under the music and performing arts category for some broad topic ideas:
- Music genres and styles
- History of music
- Music of specific countries and groups
However for research paper topics, you will want to think of an idea that is more in-depth, for instance:
- Primitive music
- Russian music
- Or a specific composer, such as Handel, Purcell or Wagner
After you determine a topic you are interested in, click on the link to find more articles and books on the subject. If you would like to learn more about primitive music, Richard Wallaschek provides insight in his book, “Primitive Music: An Inquiry into the Origin and Development of Music, Songs, Instruments, Dances and Pantomimes of Savage Races.” He shares that “IT is with music as with language: however far we might descend in the order of primitive people, we should probably find no race which did not exhibit at least some trace of musical aptitude, and sufficient understanding to turn it to account. In fact it would appear that among races of the very lowest order of civilisation there are frequently to be found some which have more musical capacity than many of a higher order.”
Music history research paper topics
When the time comes to start to research paper topics, you will quickly get frustrated if you simply start searching for music history or even history of music. But if you focus on a more specific topic, perhaps spirituals, you should be able to narrow your idea into a more focused area such as spirituals during slavery, famous spirituals, Easter spirituals or gospel music.
Arthur C. Jones writes in the introduction to “The Spirituals Project,” a multimedia educational website created by the Office of Teaching and Learning at the University of Denver, “Spirituals are the religious folk songs created and first sung by African Americans in slavery.”
He also clarifies the difference between spirituals and gospel music, explaining that: “Gospel fuses musical elements of both the spirituals and the blues, and incorporates extensive musical improvisation, with piano, guitar or other instrumental accompaniment. While the gospel tradition descended directly from the spirituals and the blues, the spirituals have also continued to exist as a parallel cultural force.”
Resources for music history
For further information on music history, consider these resources:
- Library of Congress (loc.gov)—Browse under Arts & Culture for music topics
- Music Genres List (musicgenreslist.com)—Offers a comprehensive list of musical styles available on the Internet
- The National Music Museum (orgs.usd.edu/nmm)—Houses a variety of musical instruments from all cultures and time periods
- National Museum of African American Music (nmaam.org)—Dedicated to all aspects of African American music
- Museum of Music History (www.momh.org.uk)—Traces the history of civilization through its music
What is your favorite period of music? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.